by Aaron Burns

CORNELIUS – Aquesta Bank customers won’t see an immediate change from the company’s sale of its employee benefits practice to Lake Norman Benefits, but subtle changes, including working with new benefits consultants, will likely follow the acquisition.

The transaction, announced Jan. 3, will primarily affect the clients of Aquesta Insurance Services who have employee benefit or other health insurance plans, Lake Norman Benefits spokesman Jim Emmerson said.

“The most significant change that most clients will notice is that we have designated account managers and claims specialists that help them handle many of the issues that they are used navigating on their own,” Emmerson said.

The Mooresville-based company helps implement and advise people on employee benefits like 401k plans, pensions and health, dental and life insurance.

“We feel very strongly that we need to do everything we can to make the lives of our (human relations) directors and benefits coordinators easier,” Emmerson said. “They have enough to deal with on a daily basis without wrestling with the ever-changing world of employee benefits.”

Aquesta – based in Cornelius with branches in Davidson and Mooresville – wanted its benefits customers to receive the best support possible. Those needs were what necessitated the deal, CEO Jim
Engel said.

The sale shouldn’t affect Aquesta’s fourth-quarter numbers, but instead allowed the company to change its focus.

“Our agency can now focus on continuing to grow its primary business, personal and commercial insurance, while our benefits customers receive excellent care with Lake Norman Benefits.”

Lake Norman Benefits also acquired the bank’s subsidiary Aquesta Insurance Agencies Inc., an independent insurance agency that offers commercial and personal property and casualty insurance.

Emmerson said gaining the benefits side of Aquesta and Aquesta Insurance Agencies, was a major coup in Lake Norman Benefits’ attempts to expand.

The acquisition has increased its client base by 40 percent, totaling about 100 corporate clients and several hundred individual clients, he said.

“This acquisition is a major part of our growth strategy for 2013. We have been increasing in size rapidly for the last five years through intrinsic growth and continue to do so,” Emmerson said.

“When you have the opportunity to make a significant addition to your client base like this, it allows you, as a company, to quickly ramp up and take advantage of better economies of scale.

The change won’t be very significant for Aquesta’s employees, Emmerson said.

Barbara Norman, Aquesta’s manager for its employee benefits business unit, joined Lake Norman Benefits to provide some continuity after the change was made.

“This is another reason that there should be very little, if any, disruption in the client experience,” Emmerson said.

The sale of the single unit to Lake Norman Benefits enables Aquesta Insurance Services to work on expanding its insurance line for property and casualty insurance.

It’s a win-win for both sides, Emmerson explained. Lake Norman Benefits becomes a part of what he called a “well-known brand around the lake,” and Aquesta can focus on other priorities.

“We have admired and respected Aquesta Bank for years,” Emmerson said. “We are pleased that they had the confidence in Lake Norman Benefits to allow us to take on a part of their client base. We intend to reward that confidence with outstanding client service, and through that service, we hope to earn the same respect and admiration from the Lake Norman community over the coming months and years.”

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.